Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Night Passage

NIGHT PASSAGE is famous as the movie that caused a rift between its star James Stewart and the director who was supposed to helm it, Anthony Mann. Mann quit the picture early on and was replaced by James Neilson. It's not generally regarded as being up to the standard of the earlier Stewart/Mann Western collaborations, but as an hour and a half of entertainment, it's pretty darned good.

Stewart plays Grant McLaine, a former troubleshooter for the railroad who lost his job because he was suspected of letting an outlaw get away. He's been reduced to playing the accordion in end-of-track camps for nickels and dimes. However, when several payrolls in a row are lost to a gang of outlaws headed by the notorious Whitey Harbin, McLaine gets his job back and is tasked with getting a $10,000 payroll through to the railhead.

Naturally enough, the gang goes after the money, including the Utica Kid, the fast-draw outlaw who McLaine supposedly allowed to escape several years earlier. There's a link between the two men that won't come as much of a surprise when it's finally revealed, but it does an effective job of setting most of the plot in motion and eventually leading to a well-done shootout that serves as the movie's climax.

Stewart is fine as always. I can watch him in anything and always enjoy his work. He even sings a couple of songs, something I don't recall him doing in any other film, and does an adequate job of it. As the Utica Kid, Audie Murphy gives one of his better performances. While he was never a great actor, I've liked every movie I've ever seen with him in it. As the villainous Whitey Harbin, Dan Duryea is weaselly as ever. Brandon de Wilde, a few years after his role in SHANE, plays a kid who gets involved with the outlaws.

The rest of the cast is top-notch: Jack Elam and Robert Wilke as two of the outlaws, Jay C. Flippen as a railroad magnate, Paul Fix and Ellen Corby as a married couple in the end-of-track camp, and plenty of other fine supporting players. The Colorado scenery (the movie was filmed along the narrow-gauge railway between Durango and Silverton) is spectacular. The script is by the always dependable Borden Chase, based on a novel by another old pulpster, Norman A. Fox.

I saw NIGHT PASSAGE many years ago but remembered nothing about it. I enjoyed it a great deal this time around. It's a little too formulaic to belong in the top rank of Westerns, but it's good solid entertainment and well worth watching.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I read the novel awhile back, and liked it a lot.